Live by Night - The Roaring Twenties


Life in the U.S.A and the rest of the World during the 1920's was a time that is often referred to as the "Roaring Twenties" - a boisterous period characterized by rapidly changing lifestyles, financial excesses, and the fast pace of technological progress.

What was it like to live in the 1920's? There were the flappers and sheiks, evolving women's fashion in clothing, hairstyles and jewelry, silent movies, popular music including jazz, politics, religion, and the Stock Market crash of 1929 that heralded the end of the boom-times, and the following depression years.

Prior to the Prohibition era there were the hatchet attacks by Carry A. Moore in places that served alcohol such as taverns. Can you imagine this taking place? She was a radical activist member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in the lead-up to national prohibition. She changed her name to Carry A. Nation (carry a nation for prohibition). It was a time of living under Prohibition when speakeasies and organized crime flourished; the popular 1920s dance was the Charleston, along with the unique style of dress and hairstyles of the era.

During Prohibition, the manufacture, transportation, import, export, and sale of alcoholic beverages were restricted or illegal. Prohibition was supposed to lower crime and corruption, reduce social problems, lower taxes needed to support prisons and poorhouses, and improve health and hygiene in America. Instead, alcohol became more dangerous to consume; organized crime blossomed; courts and prisons systems became overloaded; and endemic corruption of police and public officials occurred.

It was also a time when rapid progress was made in transportation by automobiles, trains, ocean liners, airships and airplanes that opened up countries and the world, enabling ordinary people to travel interstate and world-wide as never before. As with anything there is always a side to pick; the good, the bad or the ugly.

Filming for the movie, LIVE BY NIGHT began in Savannah, Georgia and then made its way to Lawrence, Massachusetts. The filming continued to Boston’s North and South End.When Hollywood came to Lawrence in early November it was to a welcomed reaction. To have Hollywood deem the city worthy towards its mission of producing a quality film was enthusiastically welcomed by most of the people and the mayor of the city. The movie people did their homework several years prior to warrant that the architecture, buildings, streets and environment were in line with their image plan focusing on how it was in the 1920’s. I’m sure many people are not familiar with how things were back then in the country. It is only one city in America that had seen a huge culture shift over the years and centuries as the country adapted and changed and grew.

Lawrence was known early on as the Immigrant City as the Irish came in droves along with many skilled and unskilled people from all over areas of Europe, Canada and New England. It was discovered that the native Pennacook or Pentucket people had an arrowhead business at the old Wood Mill site. Farming was evident at Den Rock Park. The Merrimack River was important to the textile industry that flourished as a result of the key importance of the Great Stone Dam. Canals were dug and factories were built alongside. The harnessing of the waters power to sell to businesses provided the incentive to thrive for these places. Many wanted to replicate the success of the Lowell mills. Lawrence stayed an important wool-processing center for many years. The Ayer Mill Clock Tower, built in 1910, is the world’s largest mill clock. The faces are just 6” smaller than Big Ben. It became the architectural focal point of the Merrimack Valley and continues to work.

Over the two weeks of filming, the weather seemed to be the perfect backdrop for a movie that had everyone talking. There was some sun, many overcast days, and rain; the perfect mood. LIVE BY NIGHT  is based on the 1920’s crime novel by Dennis Lehane. Ben Affleck helped write the screen play, stars in the movie as well as directs and produces. The story follows the life of Joe Coughlin (Ben) as he comes up through the ranks in the world of organized crime. There is a lot to this film adaptation as Joe moves from Boston, to Ybor City, Florida, and Havana, Cuba.


My review of Lawrence– I was born in Lawrence and grew up in North Andover in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Back then my stomping ground was to the city of Lawrence. We would love to go to the mill buildings especially the Purple Door where this one favorite craft shop had hundreds of cool wooden pieces for making whatever you dreamed up and more stuff for the next project. There was Malden Mill and other Mill buildings that had all the fabric you could ever need, a used jeans shop, army/navy store, Grants, Sutherlands (they had elevators with a doorman), Cherry & Webb, Deb’s Den, Blue Bonnet Bakery, Moran’s and so much more. I volunteered as a Candy Striper at LGH. We took swim classes at the Y and sometimes ventured over to Lawton’s Hot Dog stand for lunch. Newly married we lived on Prospect Hill for a time before moving to New Hampshire. You knew all the streets, how to get from A to B and what was where. That was then and it was a different life. Good times.

I’m happy that Lawrence has been given the opportunity at this time to be in the limelight and to highlight its architecture, the bridges and the buildings that have withstood the test of time. Here’s hoping that it begins to once again be a city that thrives with and for the members of all the communities that call it home.